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Making the MSc IME work for you: Online alumni workshop

The first virtual workshop with MSc Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship (IME) alumni took place in June 2020. The event came out of a need to adapt to new realities where we were no longer learning on-campus. Similarly, businesses around the globe are required to innovate, to adapt their business practices, to respond and built new solutions. Faster change and evolution, with innovation part of daily routines, makes the MSc in Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship very relevant.

The IME virtual alumni workshop was held over 1.5 hours on 2 June, enabling past, current and future IME students to call in from across the world.

In this first session, 2003 alumnus Sarah Jackson, who is now Director of Research, Partnerships & Innovation at the University of Liverpool, reflected on partnerships for innovation, why we need them and how we can build them. She spoke of her experience of building partnerships between universities and businesses, such as the N8 Industry Innovation Forum, which, as Sarah explained, “was about taking industry needs and industry questions and challenges, and trying to match that with academic expertise and solutions and ideas from across the universities.” The forum was very successful and showed the potential that facilitated networks can have for building new fruitful partnerships for innovation.

In her talk, Sarah emphasised her role as a ‘connector’ or facilitator, talking to and getting to know different people and their needs, which are crucial for building breakthrough partnerships for innovation. Sarah told us, “If you have a narrow set of relationships as an organisation, I think you only have a narrow set of possibilities. So the aim is to really broaden the depth and the base of the relationships that you have. And this is just a useful grade for us. What are our top three relationships and what we can do to maintain and deepen these to ensure that they are meaningful?”

What we learn on the MSc IME is very relevant to these themes. In discussion with Dr Kieron Flanagan, Senior Lecturer at Alliance MBS, Sarah talked of a real appetite at partner companies, such as Unilever, for innovation: “The skills and knowledge that colleagues have been developing through the IME programme, and the students on the programme, will be hugely useful and hugely beneficial, and innovation has probably become more important.”

In our second session, five graduates of the MSc IME programme talked to Professor Jonatan Pinkse about their careers, their dissertations, and about making connections. Jonatan taught students on the IME course about high-tech entrepreneurship for several years and was very excited to catch up with his former students calling in from across the globe.

The alumni talked vividly about how they used their dissertation period to engage with topics they felt passionate about and how they made connections that would lead them on the paths to their current jobs. Three talked about their work for innovative start-ups that emerged from the connections they made and the knowledge and skills they gained during the MSc. One had founded her own company and is now partnering with universities to push forward innovative research for sustainable products, seconding what Sarah Jackson had talked about.

Jonatan concluded that there were some powerful lessons that could be learned from the students’ different journeys: use the time at university to learn about certain topics and form an opinion so that people know that you have something to say.

MSc IME alumni journeys

What are you doing now?

Kiki Ahmadi, MSc 2017, Amartha in Jakarta: “I’m working at a Fintech microcredit start-up company that is serving the rural un-bankable population in Indonesia. We have a large unbanked population in Indonesia, I think almost half don’t have a bank account, and our company is helping to develop a more inclusive financial service.”

Fruzan Nijrabi, MSc 2018, Fintech Growth Syndicate in Toronto: “I work for a boutique innovation advisory firm and we specialise in Fintech. Our goal is to make sure that our financial institutions are actually innovating by partnering with Fintech. We are a small organisation and I have my hands on the actual innovation part, taking ideas from ideation to commercialisation, making use of what I learned at the MSc.”

Domizia Di Maggio, MSc 2019, Inkpact in London and Ecool in Milan: “I am doing two things right now. First, I’m a business developer at the start-up Inkpact where we have an ‘old-new’ way to do marketing through handwritten letters. Second, I am co-founder and growth manager of a start-up in Milan. We are finding innovative new solutions in the textile industry, doing research on textiles with a very low environmental impact and also very low production cost that could be used in fast fashion.”

Anvay Goenka, MSc 2019, 3D Hubs in Amsterdam: “I work for a scale-up called 3D Hubs. It’s amongst the fastest and largest growing automated manufacturing platforms in the world. We use AI algorithms to automate designs for manufacturing to shorten what generally takes 4 to 8 weeks to 5 minutes. Personally, I feel this is very exciting time to be in 3D printing and AI.”

Adithya Rajkumar, MSc 2019, Chain-Sys in Tamilnadu. “I started working at Chain-Sys when I graduated and I'm heading the Inside Sales Team. What we do is deal with data, end-to-end data management, and we are an innovative firm where we develop products for data management end-to-end purposes. I travel a lot for my job and I was actually supposed to be the Netherlands but I am kind of stuck at the moment because of the COVID-19 situation.”

What was the journey from your MSc to where you are now? Did your dissertation help you in this process?

Fruzan Nijrabi: When I was in Manchester it was the big bitcoin boom, everybody investing in cryptocurrency, so I became curious and wanted to learn more. My dissertation was on entrepreneurial opportunities and blockchain and as I was writing it, I realised that this is part of innovation financial services and I discovered Fintech.

I went to all these events to learn, I asked if I could attend for free and most said ‘yes, of course’. And then this is where the power of networking comes in. I made contact with the CEO of Fintech Growth Syndicate, who I had met during my undergraduate studies. I told her about my dissertation and my passion and was hired.”

Kiki Ahmadi: “I work for the innovation arm of Amartha and my job is to expand into new services or look for new segments. What I learned in Manchester is really useful for this and I use the slides for my in-company training on how to do innovation. For my dissertation, I looked at a start-up cluster in Jakarta and I interviewed a lot of start-up founders. I just reached out and was offered jobs.”

Anvay Goenka: What I learned at The University of Manchester is important. I have written my thesis on automotive component manufacturers, so component manufacturing is pretty much what I do right now and automotive is the biggest space we cater for. Looking for a job I was specifically looking for component manufacturing or 3D printing, or say a digital platform. I was very specific about what I wanted to do in the company, it's a way of being proactive.“

Domizia Di Maggio: “My start-up is definitely related to what came out of my dissertation, which I did on 3D body scanning. We're not focusing on that technology, but we are still focusing on aspects of my dissertation, such as the customer journey and sustainability. It relates to the MSc and the dissertation process which was reaching out to people, researchers and companies to understand their point of view and then actually conducting research to try and understand where to fit in the market. That’s been really helpful in my start-up building process.”

Adithya Rajkumar: “I wrote my dissertation on the use of in silicon methods for drug discovery, which is like using machine learning and AI to accelerate the drug discovery process. I cannot do this now but I am in touch with a few PhD students as to how I can use my analytic tools to help accelerate drug discovery. What I learned from my research is you need to do research every day in my job as new industries are opening up or closing down. So every day we do research on which industries are active and then we target them, like micro marketing.”

What do you suggest to those wanting to study here? Any last advice?

Adithya Rajkumar: “You want to have a vision. Once you have a vision everything falls in place, even if you lose track.”
Anvay Goenka: “In Manchester, a lot of companies are growing. Look for niche areas of business.”

Fruzan Nijrabi: “I didn't really understand how difficult it is to get sponsorship in the in the UK and then eventually I realised, ‘hey, you know what, it's too difficult’. I changed my search and I became more niche also more specific with what I was looking at. So yes, keeping that in mind and start the search ahead of time.”

Kiki Ahmadi: “I like to write my blog. When I was in Manchester, I posted all my papers and all my assignments. My advice is to start building personal branding. I mean, you have to let people know who you are. You have innovation management in your title so that’s going to count for something.”

Domizia Di Maggio: “Don't wait until the door gets opened for you, just go and try to open it for yourself.”

Read more about MSc Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship >>

(note that some quotes in this article have been edited for publishing online)